For many Christians, the new year represents another opportunity to carry out well-intentioned resolutions. Whether reading through the Bible in a year, memorizing Scripture, or devoting time to prayer, January often brings fresh energy and resolve. For the vast majority of us, it also reminds us of past failures to follow through.
Perhaps we have approached these good, godly resolutions in the wrong way. What if we could keep up our resolutions for more consistent Bible intake and more regular prayer while drawing in our brothers and sisters in Christ to do the same? Perhaps what’s missing in many of our resolutions is the local church.
Consider with me how our resolutions to read the Bible and pray, for instance, might be transformed if we resolved first to more meaningfully commit and engage with our local church.
Hearing God Everywhere
When it comes to hearing God in his word, committing ourselves to the life of a local church is like entering the best kind of echo chamber.
“Perhaps what’s missing in many of our resolutions is the local church.”
By committing to our church’s gatherings and the relationships God has given us there, we find Scripture reverberating into nearly every part of our lives. Yes, we should endeavor to spend personal time in Scripture each day. By folding our lives into a local church, though, we make Bible intake not just a personal event each morning, but something that happens in a variety of ways throughout the week.
In the local church, the word of God reverberates out of the church’s teaching ministry and into the relationships of its members (2 Timothy 4:2; Colossians 3:16). Consider what this might look like in your own life. Perhaps you already read Scripture each morning. You may double the amount of Bible you enjoy each week by simply committing to, and showing up for, Sunday School and corporate worship. You might also become part of a church small group or Bible study that gathers each week to discuss the Sunday sermon — another precious avenue into the word of God.
Even beyond that, you’ll find that God’s people, those called together by God’s word, are constantly repeating God’s word back to one another in ordinary conversation: “I was struggling with anger, but God recently convicted me as I read this verse in James.” “I’m not sure how God will provide but I’m trusting in these promises from Ephesians.” “God has really helped me grow as a parent by meditating on these commands in Matthew.”
In the best of ways, the local church can serve as a kind of echo chamber for the Bible. The more you fold your life into the church, the more you’ll find God’s word reverberating through your relationships into every corner of your heart and life.
Fueling Momentum for Prayer
Similarly, the new year often brings fresh resolve to pray — we want to commune with God better this year than we did last year. But our disciplines of prayer, like Bible reading, often diminish as the year progresses.
Once again, one way to keep the discipline of prayer alive is by committing ourselves to a local church — a people committed to and characterized by prayer (Acts 2:42; 4:23–31; 6:1–6; 8:14–15; 12:1–5; 13:1–3; 20:36). As we gather with the church for prayer, we learn not only how to pray, we remind ourselves of the priority of prayer and the centrality of God’s glory in our lives.
Each week, for instance, my church gathers for prayer, and each week I’m reminded at how shallow and self-focused my prayers can become. Every week the pastor asks the congregation to pray for the regular preaching of the word, that the lost in our neighborhood would come to know Christ, that our church would be a faithful witness of unity in diversity, and that our congregation would faithfully care for one another.
Beyond that, church members ask for prayer for evangelistic conversations and for those among us who are sick and suffering, and they also share ways we can praise God for his faithfulness. As I hear these requests, I’m pulled out of shallow prayer ruts and reminded to pray, as Jesus taught, “Your kingdom come.” These gatherings for prayer re-inform and reignite my personal prayer habits.
“Resolve that your Bible intake and prayer will encourage others to walk more faithfully and know God more fully.”
When we pray by ourselves we can struggle to “get going.” We lose stamina, or we simply drift into prayerlessness. But gathering with God’s people to pray is like jumping onto a moving train. We get caught up in the momentum of the church’s prayers. If your church has a weekly prayer meeting, you already have an amazing opportunity to grow in prayer this year. Consider making that meeting an immovable, sacred appointment in your calendar (or starting a prayer meeting for your church!).
If you struggle to pray, don’t merely resolve to do better each year; resolve to link arms with your church. Jump onto that moving train, and let the prayers of others energize and sharpen your personal prayer life.
Resolve Yourself to Your Church
We don’t simply join a church because it helps us keep spiritually vibrant (though it does do that). We join a church to obey Christ, love his people, and serve others. If you make resolutions, don’t merely consider how you might increase your own Bible intake and prayer. Resolve that your Bible intake and prayer will encourage others to walk more faithfully and know God more fully.
Of course, we can only fulfill that resolution as we join a church and meaningfully engage with God’s people. By joining a local church, we can fully live out Scripture’s commands to love one another (John 13:34–35), show honor to one another (Romans 12:10), serve one another (Galatians 5:13), bear with one another, forgive one another (Colossians 3:12–13), and encourage one another (1 Thessalonians 5:11).
The author of Hebrews shows just how important regularly gathering with God’s people is to the Christian life:
Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24–25)
If we’re not gathering with God’s people, we’re not simply failing to show up. We’re also failing to stir others up to love and good works, and we’re failing to encourage others to persevere in the faith. Consider resolving to know God more fully in fellowship with his people, so that they might strengthen your faith and so that you might encourage theirs.
If you want to know God more, pray more frequently, and serve God more faithfully, join a church and commit to God’s people. If you’re already a member of a local church but you’ve been living on the margins, perhaps this new year is your call to resolve afresh to fold your life more thoroughly into the life of the church.